Magazine Article 2021 – Stoneycroft Steeped In History

stoneycroft – steeped in history

WORDS   David Trim
PHOTOS   Knowledge Bank Hawke’s Bay & David Trim

Sitting beside an intersection on a busy road could make you unnoticeable to passing traffic, as drivers apply all their concentration skills on the pending merge of vehicles, and quite rightly so. However sometimes, right beside those busy spots on our everyday drive-bys, there are some incredible points of interest. Stoneycroft is one of these, and even though it is sizable, very visible and beautiful to behold, it is often missed by thousands of locals who drive right past it, sometimes several times a day.

Stoneycroft is a two-storeyed colonial house, described as Victorian Carpenter Gothic in style, and is perfectly positioned amongst significantly historic parklands on 2.4 hectares at the corner of Omahu Road and the Napier-Hastings Expressway.

Photo caption – Simple landscaping allows the house to take centre stage

Stoneycroft’s significance lies in the fact that it is a relatively unaltered example of an early runholder’s ‘townhouse’ and is representative of the lifestyle of early Hawke’s Bay landed families. The original property of 49 hectares on which Stoneycroft stands was part of the Heretaunga Block purchased by the government from local Māori in 1870.

Today the house is primarily used by the Knowledge Bank, with various organisations making use of meeting rooms, such as the genealogists who combine with the Knowledge Bank to offer help with research one day each month. The Knowledge Bank is a digital museum with facilities to collect, store and digitise all aspects of Hawke’s Bay’s history, including old movies, paper clippings, photos and family history records. The stored data becomes available on their internet servers, thus making Hawke’s Bay’s rich history easily accessible for future generations.

The grounds are a public reserve and open daily for everyone to use. “We often have a group from across the road come and exercise at lunchtime, and we frequently see people walking their dogs and enjoying the garden,” says Linda, the Knowledge Bank administrator.

There are several notable trees in the reserve, nine of which (including a redwood, a pin oak, a horse-chestnut, a Douglas fir and a Californian big tree) are registered as notable and historic trees. Their ages range up to 100 years. The simplicity and maturity of the parkland grounds create a very peaceful and tranquil setting, a lovely place to relax and get a fresh perspective of life. The autumn colours are vibrant, and the mere size of the trees certainly remind us of how small we mortals really are.

Photo caption – View to the north-western corner of the homestead

Photo captions – Clockwise from top left: William Harrison, the third owner of Stoneycroft – 1937; the interior and stairwell; view from the air – 1959; the homestead -date unknown

The house was built in 1875, having been prefabricated in Auckland and sent by coastal ship to Ahuriri. A steam train then continued the house’s journey on the newly completed railway line to Hastings. Stoneycroft was the town residence of Mr W.J. Birch who, together with his brother, farmed Erewhon Station on the Taihape Road. At that time the property was able to be reached by packhorse only.

Mrs Jean Harrison, mother of former Speaker of the House Sir Richard Harrison, was the third owner of Stoneycroft and was in residence from 1924 to 1942. They witnessed the 1931 earthquake, and Stoneycroft fought back against the shake, coming out of the battle victorious with very little damage to the house or surrounds.

In 1954 Stoneycroft was bought by Dr and Mrs D.A. Ballantyne, who were to own the property for nearly 50 years. Their stewardship was responsible for Stoneycroft being so well preserved. Dr Ballantyne had served in Crete in WWII, spending some time as a prisoner of war where he utilised his medical skills. He opted to stay behind after the war, serving as a medic in German civilian hospitals. When he returned to New Zealand, Dr Ballantyne and his wife began to restore the house and they looked after it carefully for the following 40 years.

Sybil Joyce Ballantyne owned Stoneycroft from 1954 to 2003

Dr Ballantyne joined the Hawke’s Bay Hospital in 1953 – Ballantyne House at the hospital was named after him – and in 1956 he was appointed honorary physician to the Queen in recognition of his distinguished service in the Medical Corps. He died in 1984, aged 72. His wife, Sybil Joyce, was very active in the community and in 1953 she stood successfully for the Hastings City Council, becoming the first woman to be elected. Her areas of interest included CORSO, Save the Children Fund, Girl Guides and women’s interests, and she was also a member of the Hawke’s Bay Hospital Board.

Joyce Ballantyne became concerned over the future of her house. It had been given a Category II registration under the Historic Places Act in 1993, the covenant binding future owners ‘not to damage or alter the property or allow detrimental activity’. Under the covenant, the Historic Places Trust must approve any alteration or restoration. Joyce continued in the house until she died in 2003, aged 93, with her address at death being given as Stoneycroft.

The Council bought the 2.4-hectare property for $493,000 in 2005 and four years later agreed to allow the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank to lease the property. A condition was that the interior of the building be restored to standards laid down by the Historic Places Trust.

Restoration of the building was carried out by a team of professional tradesmen and many volunteers in 2011 and 2012 at a cost of $200,000. Stoneycroft was officially opened as the site of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank on 1 December 2012.

“We are so lucky to be able to work from the house. It is always attracting new people to visit and it is amazing how often people call in to see what actually happens here – many have driven past over the years and wondered what the building was used for,” Linda said. They also get surprised visitors who have been referred to the Knowledge Bank but didn’t know the building was there.

“I don’t think the Knowledge Bank would be quite the same if we were to work out of a modern building; Stoneycroft is just perfect to help add to the very history we strive to preserve,” Linda said. LHB

Photo captions –
The public are welcome to wander through the park grounds
The back garden area, facing the expressway
The peaceful grounds

Original digital file


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Business / Organisation

Knowledge Bank Hawke's Bay


Stoneycroft, 901 Omahu Road, Frimley, Hastings

Date published

Winter 2021

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Magazine article

Creator / Author

  • David Trim
  • Knowledge Bank Hawke's Bay

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